Last October, when I drove into the yard at the lake and saw all of the trees gone, the first thing I did was park the car. And then I cried. After that, I avoided the place the rest of the winter. But it is summertime now, and for our family, summer means time at the lake which means opening the cabin.
Oh…if only “opening” the cabin was actually THAT simple.
This is how it really goes. We drive north, unlock the door, walk into our damp, musty, place that we haven’t seen since MEA weekend and begin to assess the damage. It is always a surprise depending on who has squatted (both literally and figuratively) there rent free all winter long. Some years are worse than others, and this year is one for the record books.
Mice are the worst. I hate mice. For real. I think that mice should have to pay damage deposits as soon as they are born. Mice chew up the last roll of toilet paper, the one that ended up back behind the pile of beach towels. The one roll that was overlooked by somebody last October. Then, they make toilet paper nests in drawers where they raise a lot of messy mouse children who poop a lot. On the weekends, they host nasty mouse orgies where they have toilet paper tearing contests and gorge themselves on the dog food you were SURE you’d put in the trunk back in October, but obviously didn’t. And then they poop. A LOT. Then, as if that wasn’t bad enough, most of them move out in late winter, leaving behind the one mouse relative that even they couldn’t stand to live with. He hangs around all summer, running and shouting, “Surprise!!” while humans curse at him and try to trick him into sampling the Jif peanut butter in the traps they set. Fortunately, for him, he is more of a Skippy man. Who, just in case you were wondering, also poops. A lot.
Squirrels are demented little hoarders. They hide pine cones in drawers and under beds and acorns in every shoe. Squirrels have ADHD. They get distracted and forget where they’ve hidden their nuts. Then, CLEARLY off their meds, on the first warm spring day, they wake up, look outside, and shout, ” Look!!!!!!!!!!! It’s nice outside! Really nice! And WARM!!!! Let’s Boogie! Wait! Look! OMG!!!!!! Out in the yard! PINE CONES!!!!!!!!!!! YAY!!!!!!!” And they move out.
It took me two full days to clean up after all the critters this year. This is what a hard winter does to a cabin.
On a more somber note, the fifty year old wooden bridge across the Bowstring river that was scheduled for replacement last year is gone and has been replaced with the wider, “safer” version of itself. Progress. Ouch. We will start planting trees to replace the ones that needed to be cut down for road work, and we will adjust to the new bridge. Because, really…what choice is there? Thankfully, the new bridge retains some of the character and beauty of the old one. Some days this feels like a very small victory, but I’ve learned a lot about the stages of grief. As I said before…Ouch.
My people summer on Native ground. Old ground. Sacred ground. My grandmother used to tell us stories about the Indian camps along the river. Not far up the river where Little Sand Lake meets Big Sand, there is a site where a trading post from the fur trade era still yields beads and shards of pottery whenever a garden is planted. In the 1940s, less than half a mile up the river from where the current bridge stands, archaeologists unearthed the human remains of members of an ancient tribe of Mound Builders. Small round indentations of rice holes and wooden Spirit Houses over graves along the western shoreline were very real reminders left by people who danced in supple moccasins to drum beats silenced by other types of “progress” long before my own ancestors ever arrived.
The river calls us home, six generations later, summer after summer. My children wake to the trill of red-winged blackbirds out over this river just as other children in other generations before them did. Each evening in the summer, they hear the turtles and frogs along the meadow, calling out…looking for love. The river reminds us all that while change is inevitable within the life of a family, some things stay the same. The river implores us to remember what to cherish, what to protect with all of our might.
Things like relationships and memories. And even, sometimes, faint reminders of old wooden bridges on old and sacred ground.